What’s in a Name: Potential Pitfalls

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The link isn’t available on the Star Tribune website, which is a shame because an article published in the business section yesterday gives some practical advice to budding entrepreneurs about choosing a name for their new business. The article was written by Sarah Needleman.

Many entrepreneurs, when launching a new business, are quick to rush through the name choosing phase, in the desire to move on to more interesting tasks, like designing a website or business cards. But not doing your research can lead to pitfalls and setbacks that end up costing a company.

An example given in the article regards Scott Jensen, an Austin, Texas entrepreneur who first chose the name Daily Juice Foods for his health-snack business, in honor of Daily Juice, a juice bar in Austin where Jensen and his two partners came up with the idea for their venture. The problem? The snacks don’t have any juice in them and the name ended up confusing potential buyers. After investing more than $25,000 in items with the name, such as labels, T-shirts and an email address, the partners changed the name of the product to Rhythm Superfoods. However, the headaches from the misnaming continue to linger, as many of the 175 retail outlets that carry the product have yet to update their billing systems to reflect the new name.

The article gives good advice about not choosing a generic online name to increase the odds of being found by consumers. Generic names typically don’t qualify for trademark protection, which means that competitors can copy your name or domain without  infringing upon your intellectual property.

Also check out other meanings of your names. Even large companies have gotten in trouble with this. A classic example is when Chevrolet marketed the Nova car in Spanish-speaking countries, not realizing that ‘no va’ in Spanish means “doesn’t go,” which is not the name you really want to give a car! The article talks about a consultant who called her business November 7, her wedding anniversary, not realizing that there once was a terrorist organization called November 17. Imagine having to explain to your potential clients that you are not a terrorist and not linked to any terrorist organization. That certainly isn’t the most auspicious way to start a a meeting to sell your product or services!

The article suggests conducting an informal survey, even among friends and colleagues, to test the name you are thinking about using. You might be surprised with the results. I saw this with my own eyes when I was going through the process of choosing a name for my new firm, Attenza Law. I knew I wanted a trade name rather than Lundquist Law Office, or something similar. I wanted to use Legalitas Law (Latin for ‘legal’) or Legalita’ Law (Italian for ‘legal’) to reflect my love of Italian, Latin and Rome. Adsoka, the agency that helped me with my marketing and branding, carried out a small survey with surprising results. Some people even found the name Legalita’ Law demeaning and offensive to Spanish-speakers, and the results were more negative than positive. Without that market research, I would have started my firm with a name that conjured up negative connotations and meanings for a good portion of the market I was aiming at.

The lesson in all of this: take your time in choosing a name. Research the names you are considering. Work with an expert (marketing and also legal for trademark protection) to make sure that you are covering your bases and not starting out your new business on the wrong foot.

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